"I'll sleep when I'm dead" is a common phrase that many use to justify moving at 110 mph. Many people wear lack of sleep like a badge or use it as an acceptable excuse for their mistakes. It often justifies that extra cup of coffee or that afternoon cookie, which leads to the cycle of spiking and plummeting energy. Do some people enjoy the high and adrenaline rush of no sleep? Sure. In my twenties I found that I enjoyed the thrill of going out late, getting up after only six hours of sleep, having that jolt of caffeine and a sugary breakfast to propel myself through the day, crash in mid-afternoon, to then wake myself back up with alcohol or more caffeine, rinse and repeat. However, that takes a toll on the body and especially the adrenals (insert article). As we age, we may not continue this exact ritual, but we continue the pendulum swings of energy that's similar to those younger years. Staying up late shopping online, socializing at a holiday party and finishing work are all "adult" excuses for staying up late. After just five hours of sleep, we rise early to either hit the gym or race to work. We have that jolt of caffeine to propel ourselves through the work day (one that often includes spikes of tempting break room treats). That leads us to then crave that 3pm caffeine or sugar fix, followed by working late or post-work drinks and/or shopping. We then race home with no time for dinner to slug down whatever is available or we stay up late trying to be healthy by preparing homemade food. What is sacrificed? Sleep.
After a good night's sleep how do you feel? I usually feel refreshed, alert, focused, able to remember what I thought about the last five minutes and energized throughout the day without crashes. Quality sleep is essential for optimal health. The effects of insufficient sleep on your health range from damage to restorative bodily activities (e.g., tissue repair, muscle development), decreasing memory capabilities and cognitive function and a weakened immune system. Lack of sleep damages hormone regulation such as appetite control, which ultimately can lead to weight gain. Isn’t that what we are most adamantly fighting against during the holidays anyway? Check out Mind Body Green’s article on how lack of sleep can be connected to weight gain.
The combination of shortened days and the need to squeeze more hours into the day often force us to sacrifice sleep despite the biological urge to hibernate in the winter months. If you make the alternative choice to sleep regularly or more than you normally would during the holidays, you've accepted to prioritize your body. How do you get more sleep? Here are some quick tips:
- Go to bed at same time every night 90% of the time. I like to attempt a regular bedtime Sunday - Thursday give or take 15-20 minutes. Friday and Saturday, I try to go to bed within an hour of my weekday schedule. I know from experience that this is difficult. So try it for one week and see how it makes you feel. Maybe that 6am alarm won't seem so jarring on Monday morning if you had kept a more regular sleeping schedule over the weekend.
- Don't eat at least an hour before bed and if you’ve had a larger dinner, make sure it's 2-3 hours. Eating before bed disrupts your sleep cycle especially if you don't have a well-oiled digestive system to digest food quickly and absorb the nutrients.
- Reduce sugar and alcohol from snacks and drinks in the evening. Sugar raises your blood insulin levels and from experience, I have found it adds to morning grogginess.
- Don't focus on electrical devices before bed. This means no email checking, phone looking, texting or online article reading. Try talking with a friend, meditating, or reading an actual book. All of these will reduce the high speed pace in the mind that often keeps racing despite lights off.
- Try going to bed earlier in the winter & getting up with the sun. Again, we are still mammals at the end of the day and often the daylight is when we naturally wake.
- Reduce caffeine - we drink it to increase our ability to speed through the day. Caffeine increases adrenaline and depending on the individual can take anywhere from an hour to a few hours to completely leave your system. Avoid caffeine after lunchtime and try to reduce the amount to decrease your overall anxiety level. This will help your body wind down faster.
- Exercise- exercise increases homeostasis and the body's ability to regulate all functions. This includes sleep. Try a light meditative, yoga practice in the evening or wear yourself out at an afternoon class so that by the time the evening rolls around, your body is ready and desiring restorative sleep.
The combination of shortened days and the need to squeeze more hours into the day often force us to sacrifice sleep despite the biological urge to hibernate in the winter months. If you make the alternative choice to sleep regularly or more than you normally would during the holidays, you've accepted to prioritize your body. How do you get more sleep? Here are some quick tips.
In closing, I’d like to mention self-care and taking time for you. Return to those choices to ensure you are working at your optimal level to provide your best self to others. Often we, especially women, put our needs furthest down on the priority list. The effect is often that holiday meltdown of tears, caddy comments, weight gain, and less sleep leading to why we love yet bemoan the holidays. Self-care includes more sleep, not racing around, leaving time to spend on yourself whether it's taking a bath or walk, saying "no" to a party, trying a yoga class vs perfecting that dessert decoration and anything that rejuvenates your body, mind and soul. So I challenge you this holiday season to give the gift of maintaining your wellness by making alternative choices. Although you may not achieve them all, you may find you will enjoy what you choose and those around you will get to enjoy the best version of you.